Looking for a kosher, fun, adult activity? The ‘room escape’ genre started as puzzle-type video games. Very large maps with puzzles to solve actually had their beginning with text adventure games, followed by graphical games where you entered text commands, followed by more point-and-click type games. Then with the internet and “flash games” allowing easy programming and distribution of smaller-type games, puzzle games were placed in “smaller” settings. Instead of escaping an island, a mad man’s castle, or traveling through time to play three different time lines with three character which effect each other, the cut scenes and different settings are removed and the game is reduced to puzzles within a single room. (Extra points given to the person who can identify each game I referenced.) The typical “room escape” computer game (a very large list sorted by rating is here: http://jayisgames.com/tag/escape/rating) has you look at one of four walls and solve puzzles.
Then, someone got the bright idea – why don’t we do this “for real”? My wife dragged me to the first one where I didn’t really know what it was. Now we’ve been to three different such rooms. They’re a lot of fun. Unlike the less than social video game versions, the live games are meant to be played as a team. In some places, you bring the team – minimum of two. In other places, the room or rooms are larger and if you don’t bring a large group, they have you join with strangers so the groups are about 6 to 10 in size. It’s great for a couple or a family with older kids (minimum age is usually 12 or 16). Post high school / college aged kids are often seen at these places as well, as well as younger adults.
Having a larger group can be helpful as the puzzles can be very difficult. Sometimes the puzzles intuitive, sometimes they’re just strange. For example, a puzzle might require you to put dipsticks in holes and see what number aligns with the top for a code, you unlock a drawer with the code and find a radio. You use another code to figure out the station to tune to which then gives you yet another code. Or, in another case, you figure out that symbols tell you the position of coordinates on a map which point to a country. That country then has pictures which tell you something else only one of the pictures is of Greece, but that’s not one of your choices. Turns out it has to do with the actor in the picture who’s from Australia (a well known probable anti-semite which made the puzzle easy for me, and again, extra points if you tell me who I’m talking about in the comments). Use of polarizing lenses, ultraviolet light, erasers or transparency overlaps, and that sort of thing also seem to be fairly common.
We’ve found the games vary in quality and types of puzzles depending on the place you go and who’s putting the game together. We liked some better than others. Our favorite so far was “The Remedy” where you search for your way out of a doctor’s office to find a cure. The puzzles where intuitive, varied, and required both the skill sets of myself and my wife. Different ways of looking at things help solve different puzzles (e.g. my analytic patent attorney way vs. my wife’s … I don’t know … she does this for a living … it’s something different than analytic, but I don’t have the skill set to describe it). By working together, we were able to get through all of the puzzles but got stuck juts before the end. Why? Mis-communication. I thought my wife already used a code, she thought I used it, etc, etc. Another time (with a different room escape), we sat down all but ready to give up and I tried a code on a lock and it turned out we skipped half the puzzles and got to the end in a way we shouldn’t have been able to … that one wasn’t so well designed.
In “The Senator’s Manor” we joined a larger group in what was a fairly large space. This allowed people to split up and the alpha males not to step on each other’s toes. Sometimes, the others found things and others times you have to take the initiative. This was just fine with me and I had a lot of fun (between the inevitable periods of frustration that they games bring), but that’s because I’m one of those alpha males who did everything. My wife wasn’t as happy here, so therefore, I wasn’t as happy here. Still, I think a variety can be nice … sometimes go with your spouse, sometimes go with others too and form a larger group, go with friends, etc.
The escape room games usually are one hour games. Including introduction time (5 to 15 minutes) and “decompression” afterwards, you can expect to spend about 1.5 hrs. That might not seem long, but when you’re “on” and alert for the entire time, it’s quite sufficient. The games usually cost about $30 – $35 per person. It’s worth a try at least once to see if you like it. You can find them throughout the country – Montclair, NJ has two such places at the time of this writing, New York City has one or two, Orlando has at least four . . . just type into Google “Room Escape” or “Adventure Room” or the like. Enjoy. Please add your comments below.